I have always loved the season of Advent. It wasn’t that I was so in tune with its’ Church year meaning. I just loved the season leading up to Christmas.
As a child, the anticipation of Christmas was a truly magical time. People seemed to be naturally filled with niceness and smiles. We would also plan into our days to watch as many of those Claymation Christmas shows as we possible. Remember when they were only available to view one time each year? I can still see downtown Anoka all lit up when we would go to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Then there was Dietrich’s Toy Store on Main Street filled with all the dreams any little boy could imagine – Lincoln Logs, Model Cars and all those new-fangled electronic toys.
Barb and I were just talking yesterday about this glorious childhood sense of excitement as we drove into our neighborhood and enjoyed the bright lights of the season. It truly wasn’t so much about receiving gifts as it was about an overall sense of joy and expectation. In other words, it was about Advent even though we didn’t know it!
The season of Advent, which comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” or “visit," begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent is the beginning of the Church year for many Christians. This year at Oak Hill we will be following the Church year too with seasonal themes beginning with Advent Epistle texts.
During Advent, we prepare for, and anticipate, the coming of Christ. We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for, and need of, forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning. Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming.
This year we are calling our Advent series Joy Unleashed. As we gather before Christmas our prayer is that you will be filled with hope, peace and the joy of Jesus. God desires, no matter our age, that we would be filled with a sense of amazement that the Savior has come. The Light of the World has come; He is able to shine brightly in our lives and our souls.
May Joy Be Unleashed in us and through us!
Here are few questions for you to consider today.
I can also easily see that my values and priorities through most of my twenties can simply be summed up in one word – ME! My life looked “positive and orderly”, but I have no doubt that God would not feel the same way. God’s Word and His ways were clearly on the back-burner. I was busy making a name for myself and enjoying the “good things” in life. I went to church on a somewhat regular basis to see some of my friends and to stay “connected” to my Christian identity claim. My life was easy, enjoyable, fun and just what I wanted. I was totally lukewarm toward God. He loved me too much to leave me there!
The Book of Haggai is written to confront the problems that come our way when God takes a backseat in our lives. The people of Israel had clearly put their own desires ahead of a desire to love, serve and worship God. They were brought back from the Babylonian captivity to their homeland through the declaration of the Persian King Cyrus. They were set free to celebrate God’s deliverance, but the Israelites decided there were a few things to do that were more important than worshiping God.
The Israelites would probably argue that they were just being practical and taking care of their families, etc.… but God clearly saw it differently as we can see as we read Haggai 1.
2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
5 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways…”
Today God gives us the same mirror to consider our true motives and priorities. We are tempted to give God the leftovers, if we give Him anything at all. We are tempted to worship Him joyfully…well, if things go our way. Many of us are going after life without God’s perspective and then we wonder why we feel empty or stressed out. It seems a good idea to me, that if we want to know how life works best, we should check in with the one that created the whole thing in the first place.
My great-uncle, Rudy Stovner, drove an ancient car. I doubt if you’ve ever heard of it. He drove a 1937 Hudson Terraplane. Anybody remember the Terraplane? It had been around many years, plugging away on the rural roads near Wahpeton, ND.
Now my great-uncle had a theory about that car. He said he knew - despite its birth in the 1930’s, the reason his car had made it through the World War II, the 50’s and well into the 1960’s. Uncle Rudy said that the secret of his Terraplane was that he never drove it in high gear. Second gear was as far as he would go. My dad and uncles thought it was a riot to ride in Uncle Rudy’s Terraplane, the engine screaming but the speed maxing out at 25 mph. Somehow other drivers did not think it quite so funny. Uncle Rudy said with a proud grin, “I am saving the brakes. If you don’t go in high gear, and don’t move too fast, when you come to a stop sign or a red light, you can let the engine slow you down.”
Now I know this picture may be murky for some of you. If you have not had the privilege of driving a manual transmission, you may miss the point. If you’ve been spoiled with an automatic transmission, you may not understand. But some of us learned to drive by shifting gears, three gears usually: low, second, and high. You sat at traffic lights, waiting impatiently, and revved up the engine, letting out the clutch, engaging that low gear, so that you could get off the dime and move. You couldn’t go very fast that way, but it got you out of the gate.
As soon as possible, you shifted up into second gear, which was for acceleration. Second gear took your two tons of steel and got it going faster and faster. Second gear provided a rush, because you heard the engine whining as it turned faster. In second gear there was a feeling that you were ready to get moving.
And then, when the time was just right, when you realized you were about up to traveling speed, you shifted into high gear, using the engine’s power to keep the car moving smoothly toward its goal. It was in high gear that you stayed when you let your car do what it was supposed to do. High gear was what a car was designed to do.
But Uncle Rudy’s ancient Terraplane never got out of second gear. He was saving the brakes. It moved - slowly. It never achieved the potential the engineers had designed. Cautious, safe, a barrel of laughs, but not much of a ride.
Could this also be a description of our journey with our God? We are moving a bit in first gear – we attend some activities. Or maybe we have shifted into second gear and we commit a bit of our time to serve and we give some of our money to serving others, but we don’t want to get carried away. Third gear, what we were truly designed for, would grasp that all my time and stuff is a gift from God. Third gear would be the freedom of firing on all cylinders, holding on loosely and expecting a wild ride of an adventure with God. It would be living by faith!
This past Sunday was Reformation Sunday and with that in mind I would encourage you to live spiritually in third gear. It would be a life of reformation, revival and renewal. God wants to do this continual to you and our congregation. Pop that clutch and let the wind blow through your hair as God takes you on the ride of your life!
Pastor Nick Mundis